On today’s Finely Tuned Consultant I have the pleasure of talking with Josh Pollock. He is a developer, blogger and Community Manager at Pods Framework. He has a passion for WordPress development and sites both big and small. I spoke with him about his background in WordPress, “Human Centered WordPress Solutions”, and advice for WordPress consultants. Check out the interview below!
How did you get started with WordPress?
I got started by writing a blog using WordPress.com. Pretty quickly I saw what was possible on a self-hosted site and so I switched over. That experience showed me two important things. The first was that, even though I had a very small audience, I could connect with like-minded people through this medium.
The other thing I learned was that I could Google how to do pretty much anything with WordPress. I’d never used a program where I could open the code up and hack away. So I started making changes to my theme and occasionally those changes I was making even worked! Somehow that awoke some part of me that was fascinating by working with computers.
That all happened when I was in grad school for environmental studies. Studying ecological design, and experiencing how free-software projects like WordPress and Linux organically lead to great tools, which benefit a lot of people financially, lead to me writing my thesis on open-source solutions for sustainable design.
What you are currently working on?
All the work I do is for other developers. I work for the Pods, the free development framework for WordPress, which I love. I get to solve people’s problems one on one and then turn that into ways to avoid others having those problems. That can take the form of writing tutorials, improving the plugin’s UI or even writing entirely new add-on plugins.
I also work regularly for developers that have taken on a project that has more complex content management needs than they can handle on their own. On these projects, I figure out, generally using Pods, how to structure the data and then implement those systems.
In addition to that, and writing for Torque and Tuts+’s WordPress section, I am working on my own startup, which will be a software as a service product, powered by WordPress and Pods, of course. That’s really why I got into this, to create free software products to build communities while solve issues of economic inequality and environmental unsustainability.
On your site it says you focus on “Human-Centered WordPress Solutions” can you explain this a bit?
Human-centered design is the principle that design of any system should start from the needs of the people that will use them. As the designer following this principle, you still have a specific goal. Instead of starting from that goal, and working towards how someone will use the solution you come up for it, you should start from what people need, and work towards your goal, and find the solutions organically along the way.
With WordPress work, that means starting from what the visitor to a site needs or the user of a product needs. From there, I look at what’s the interface, or what’s the message, or educational tool that aligns the user’s goals with the site or product’s goals. Then you’re building long-term relationships with users through your product, whatever it is, based on them getting the content they need or telling the story they want to tell or selling the product they want to sell.
Also on your site you mention conversions and analytics, how important are measurable success metrics to you?
Goals are important and analytics can be a good way to measure them. I think with analytics, the most important part is finding the right analytic. Page views is, for the most part, an irrelevant piece of data rate. What’s important isn’t just conversion rate, but who you convert.
Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
Everywhere. I read a lot. Since my role is as an educator as well as an implementer and that I’m constantly learning it means I have to read pretty much everything. Part of being a writer is reading other people who write in this space. I get multiple benefits out of that since a lot of my clients are not very kknowledgeable of what is available in the WordPress ecosystem and need me to tell them what are the best tools, services and practices. In addition, it means I’m constantly learning, which is great, because I love learning.
I read pretty much everything on Torque, WPTavern, and Poststat.us as well as most posts on the personal Tom McFarlin and Chris Lema’s blogs. I also keep several twitter lists open in TweetDeck on my second monitor while I work. In addition I tend to check my WordPress multi-reddit and Managewp.org once a day.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for WordPress consultants in 2014?
I think the “here’s a forty dollar plugin or theme, all your problems are solved” marketing message has done the industry a real disservice. The challenge is explaining to clients why, despite spending that $40, they need to spend money on a professional, and that WordPress and possibly that plugin has saved them a ton of money.
And do you have any advice for consultants in that situation?
I focus on their goals and how close they already are. Sure for some people, they really do need to go to a big agency and get a very expensive site done from scratch. But for most people, they can get by with a some of the shelf plugins and themes, plus a little custom code.
That’s where people like me come in. Someone who can find the right tools, make the right plan and then write that code, which is sometimes 50 lines, sometimes it’s a lot more. The point is explaining to clients the value of not reinventing the wheel and writing as little custom code as possible.
If you were going to spend a weekend building a new plugin, what would it be?
What’s a weekend? If I had one, I’d work on the plugins behind my own start-up.
That said, I’ve got a lot of ideas for small plugins, I’d love to write, mainly aimed at enhancing the post editing experience. For example, I’d like an admin bar clock showing server time. On my site I have a plugin that’s not finished that prevents publishing without an excerpt or featured post, I’d like to add an options screen with more options to that and release it.
It’s going to sound like I’m kissing my primary employer’s butt if I say Pods, but its true. I use it for so much and it’s really an incredible tool that has saved me so much time, not only by making it easy to create and manage custom content types and custom fields, but also because of its front-end tools. More importantly working on that project, and with the people involved in it, both the developers and users has taught me so much about development.
The other two plugins that seem to be solving problems for me lately are SearchWP and FacetWP. They both make it so much easier to get users to the right content, which is really important in the kind of complex content management type sites I do.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
I think in the wider-world of networked-technology fragmentation is a real issue. There is so much cool stuff out there, and wearable tech and other “internet of things” type technologies are opening up exciting new possibilities. Unfortunately so much of it is based on proprietary technology that is designed to force you into a company’s product silo.
I hope that the next few years will be about cross-platform integration. Companies like Apple and Google whose whole business strategy is about getting you to buy another one of their products to use with the product they already have they can’t deliver that. Because WordPress is an open app platform that is so easy to develop for, has so many prebuilt tools and is so extensible, I feel it is perfect connector. WordPress and other systems will thrive if the freedoms they provide can act to counterbalance the restrictive closed nature of what companies in search of monopolies and control are after.
If you could change one thing today about WordPress, what would it be?
All of the people who complain without trying to change anything or realizing how silly their requests are or that maybe Joomla or Drupal is a better choice. If WordPress does something you don’t like, change it you, have that freedom.
Honestly I’m really happy with the direction WordPress is going. It’s not perfect but the big things it is missing, like better meta data handling or a native API can be added with a plugin and are the focus of core development right now.